Mr Gaurav Agrawal, the Learned Amicus Curiae identified the states of Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Jharkhand initially to obtain relevant information to be furnished to this Court. He submitted a note in which he referred to six stages for alleviation of the forlorn children who have lost both parents or a single parent.
The learned Amicus Curiae further submitted that the figures given by the State of Tamil Nadu did not appear to be correct as in several districts not even one child was produced before the CWC. The only information provided by the State of Tamil Nadu was in respect of those children who had lost both parents or single parents due to Covid-19. The learned Amicus Curiae also brought to the Court’s notice that according to the response on behalf of the District Child Protection Officers (DCPO) and other officials from the States of Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Jharkhand almost all the children who have become orphans or lost one parent need financial assistance.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) submitted an affidavit that there are 3,621 orphans, 26,176 children who have lost one parent, and 274 children who have been abandoned. The State-wise data that was given in the affidavit filed by NCPCR showed that the NCT of Delhi and the State of West Bengal have not uploaded the correct information.
Mr K.M. Nataraj, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for the NCPCR submitted that the identification of affected children was a dynamic activity and expressed his anguish about certain NGOs collecting funds in the names of the affected children. He further submitted that it has been brought to the notice of the NCPCR that illegal adoptions contrary to the provisions of the Juvenile Justices Act, 2015 were being resorted to, which should be prevented. He suggested that the District Legal Service Authorities should be associated with the Government officials to ameliorate the condition of the affected children.
Mr Gaurav Agrawal, the learned Amicus Curiae suggested that identification of children who have become orphans or have lost one of their parents during this pandemic did not cause any delay. Immediate relief should follow the identification of such children without any delay. Further, he suggested that the Child Welfare Committees (CWC) should conduct inquiries and pass suitable orders expeditiously which have to be implemented without any delay. Monitoring of children by CWC and the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) should be conducted on a periodical basis.
He further suggested that the DCPO should meet the child and the guardian immediately after receipt of information and ascertain the willingness of the guardian to take care of the child apart from making an assessment of the immediate needs of the child and the financial condition of the guardian. He emphasized the need for the DCPO to ensure that adequate provision is made for ration, food, medicines, and clothing, etc for the child. He further submitted an amount of Rs.2,000/- per month should be released in favour of the child till CWC passes an order after due inquiry. There should be a follow-up with the child at least once a month to ascertain his/her well-being. He further stressed the need for the child to be produced before the CWC in case DCPO was of the prima facie opinion that the guardian was not capable of taking care of the child.
The learned Amicus Curiae also put forward a concern that the affected children should not face a situation of discontinuance of their education. If the affected children are studying in Government schools they should be permitted to continue. In so far as the children who are studying in private schools, the State Governments/Union Territories should take steps and direct the continuance of the children in those schools at least for six months by which time some arrangement can be worked out.
Mr Chirag M. Shroff, Learned Counsel appearing for the NCT of Delhi submitted that there was some difficulty in collecting data to be uploaded on the NCPCR portal. He submitted that a decision was taken recently to depute government officers at the grass root level to take immediate steps to gather the information which will be updated on the NCPCR portal. He further submitted that the basic needs of children who become orphans or have lost one parent shall be attended to apart from steps being taken as provided in the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
The Learned Counsel for the State of West Bengal submitted that the data could not be uploaded because of some confusion about the six stages that are mentioned in the web portal of NCPCR.
Mr Joseph Aristotle, Learned Counsel appearing for the State of Tamil Nadu stated that suitable directions shall be given to the concerned authorities to take steps for identification of the affected children by collecting information from health officials/Panchayati Raj Institutions, police authorities, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
The Court accepted the suggestions made by the Learned Amicus Curiae relating to the education of the affected children. The other issues that have been raised by the learned Amicus Curiae relating to the protection of property rights of the children, further education of the children including employment opportunities, special care to be taken in respect of the girl child will be taken up on the next date of hearing.
The Court observed that the information provided by the State Governments/Union Territories on the ‘Bal Swaraj’ Portal up to 05.06.2021 showed that there were 30,071 children who had become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned.
The Court perused Section 108 of the JJ Act, 2015 and found that the Central Government and the State Governments/Union Territories should take measures to ensure that the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015 are given wide publicity through media including Television, Radio, and print media at regular intervals to make the general public, children and their parents or guardians aware of such provisions.
The Court observed that there was a need for continuous monitoring of the implementation of the schemes in favour of the affected children.
After making the aforementioned observations, the Court directed the State Governments/Union Territories to continue identifying the children who have become orphans or lost a parent after March 2020 either due to Covid-19 or otherwise and provide the data on the website of the NCPCR without any delay. The Court directed the DCPU to contact the affected child and his guardian immediately on receipt of information about the death of the parent/parents and to ensure that adequate provisions are made for ration, food, medicine, clothing, etc for the affected child and further to ensure that the financial assistance to which the disconsolate child is entitled should be provided without any delay. The Court further directed that if the DCPO is of the prima facie opinion that the guardian is not suitable to take care of the child, he should produce the child before the CWC immediately. CWC should provide for the essential needs of the child and should ensure that all financial benefits to which he/she is entitled are provided to the child during the pendency of the inquiry without fail.
The Court also directed the State Governments/Union Territories to make provisions for continuance of education of the children both in Government as well as in private schools and to take action against those NGOs/individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions. The Court directed that wide publicity should be given to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015 and the prevailing schemes of the Union of India and the State Governments/Union Territories which would benefit the affected children. The Court also directed the learned Amicus Curiae to contact the nodal officers to be appointed by the States of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Uttarakhand, NCT of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and UT of Jammu and Kashmir to obtain the information relating to the welfare of the children who are in a dolorous state due to loss of their parent/parents and submit a report.
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